My small hometown in Ontario, Canada, was the kind of place where everybody knew each other’s name and said hello when passing on the street. The town has always been full of farmers, and my family was no exception; more specifically, we farmed trees. Our pothole-studded, kilometer-long driveway was lined on both sides with methodically planted rows of oak, maple, and buckeye seedlings. With nothing but fields surrounding our house, my siblings and I had a carefree childhood, running amuck in my mother’s massive garden, tearing up flowerbeds (to her dismay) to “cook” and concoct potions and potpourri. We would create elegant meals featuring mashed-up rose petals and glossy chestnuts, and critique one another’s dishes before pretending to eat them.
There was a laneway behind our house known by my family as the “back 40” that connected our farm to my grandmother’s house. The walk was a brief ten minutes, and a portion of it was lined with raspberry bushes yielding massive, succulent berries.
Every year our family looked forward to the summer's harvest. Equipped with Tupperware and repurposed yogurt containers, my mother would lead the way through the thorny bushes while singing a funny song. My siblings and I followed her like the cars of a train, collecting as many berries as possible, popping a few in our mouths along the way. After we had filled our containers, and our bellies, we would continue on the path to my grandmother’s house, red-stained hands clutching overly full containers. My grandmother was Czech and would use the raspberries to bake amazing kolaches (originally known as a "wedding dessert") and pies.
July was a busy time in our household: My father, brother, and I all had birthdays within 11 days of each other. The birthday month and raspberry season overlapped perfectly, and we celebrated our special days with a raspberry almond torte baked and assembled by my mother. Every year we had this cake three times in less than two weeks, yet it never got old.
Each birthday morning, I would wake up to the smell of toasted almonds wafting through the house. In the kitchen, my mother would be singing happily while pouring batter into pans and whipping cream in the mixer, her apron dusted with confectioners’ sugar, and the soft morning light illuminating the gold undertone in her loose brown ringlets. Declining any offer to help, she would hand us a whisk covered in whipped cream or cake batter to enjoy. Once the cake was assembled, it was placed on the highest shelf in the fridge, tempting us for the rest of the day.
After dinner, my grandmother and aunts would arrive, and a chorus of “Happy Birthday” announced the arrival of the cake on a beautiful platter, adorned with softly glowing candles. A wish was made, candles were blown out, and the cake was served to an appreciative crowd.
Although the raspberry bushes have been removed, we still celebrate our birthdays each year with the famous torte. To this day, I have yet to taste a raspberry that was on par with the red jewels growing on those bushes.
Throughout childhood, my mother always encouraged her children to explore our passions; for me, that meant cooking, and experimenting, at an early age. Although mistakes in the kitchen—and in life—are inevitable, she continues to encourage us to be patient with ourselves and to explore life fearlessly.
Allegra D'Agostini is a university student and food blogger from Ontario, Canada. She can be found at www.allegraeats.com and @allegraeats .
Raspberry Almond Torte
7 eggs, separated
5 oz. sugar
1 t. vanilla
5 oz. ground almonds
3 1/2 oz. breadcrumbs
1 pint heavy cream
2 c. plus 2 - 3 T. confectioners’ sugar
1/2 c. toasted sliced almonds
2 c. fresh raspberries, plus a few more for decorating
3 - 4 T. lemon juice
1/4 c. raspberry jam
Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a mixer, beat egg yolks, sugar and vanilla until creamy and lighter in color.
Stir in ground almonds and breadcrumbs.
In a clean bowl with clean beaters, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.
Gently fold egg whites into the egg yolk mixture until just incorporated.
Pour batter into a greased and floured 9-inch cake pan.
Bake for approximately 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Allow cake to cool completely.
Whip the cream until stiff, then mix in 2 - 3 T. confectioners’ sugar.
Fold in 1/4 c. of toasted sliced almonds (slightly crushing to break them into smaller pieces) and fresh raspberries.
Mix 2 cups of confectioners’ sugar with 1 T. lemon juice.
Add more lemon juice, 1 T. at a time, until a honey-like in consistency is achieved.
Carefully slice cake into 3 layers.
Place the bottom layer on a serving dish and spread with a thin layer of raspberry jam.
Cover jam with 1/2 of the whipped cream mixture.
Repeat with second layer.
Place third layer on top and spread with confectioners’ sugar mixture only to the edges.
Toss toasted sliced almonds on top of the icing and decorate with additional raspberries.